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Shortly after its development Siberia became an annotation for all sorts of renegades from the laws and the citizens inconvenient for powerful people in Russia. In 1754 the exile to Siberia was officially fixed as permanent, it could be of two types: for work and location. Hence there were two categories of exiles – “exiled settlers” and “exiled convicts”. Usually among the exiles of the first group were the people subjected by the court to trade executions. Those sent for location were included into the list of village peasants or a separate settlement was founded for them, and they got the provision from the Treasury. The exiled settlers fell into four categories: 1) distributed to move to certain places and places scantily inhabited and supported by the state loan, 2) distributed to villages of old-timers on the placement or permanent living, 3) distributed to factories, 4) incapable of settling because of old age and diseases, and distributed to settlements for self-provision by feasible labor (in this context they were called “provided”).

The freedom-loving exiles and the newcomers often did not get along in places of settlement, so the exiles went on the run or walked with the scrip around the Siberian territories. They turned into vagabonds, who were treated in accordance with the Decree of March, 29, 1753: “... Inasmuch many plebeians, servants, monastery’s people, townsmen and peasants wander around begging, which must be stopped ...” But the fight against all kinds of escapes was not always won, because both residents and monastic authorities of Siberian villages sometimes welcomed and hosted those fugitives. The local people did it in accordance with the established practice of sympathy with runaway people, so local people took care of the fugitives as is described in a well-known song about Lake Baikal: “the country girls gave me bread, guys provided me with tobacco”. The monastic authorities had another reason for that help, they wanted labor force, so they hid fugitives in monasteries. For example, in 1756 it turned out that the monks of the Posolsky Monastery for seven years hid 11 peasants who had fled from the Ilimsky County Fort .

I. Georgi, who visited the shores of Lake Baikal in 1772, stated that it was easier to meet a brown bear or a Baikal Nerchinsk fugitive convict than a Russian countryman in these places. But still, from the beginning of the 19th century, the number of local Russian inhabitants (including those who settled down there) increased, and even more exiles were sent to those villages. Baikal-Kudara is a sample of such a case. Kudara, cut off from the mainland by the waters of the Selenga and the lake, became a convenient place of exile for former convicts working in the mines and factories of Nerchinsk, the Selenginsky Salt Factory, and the Telminsky Textile Factory. The complete picture of the exiles is given in the “List composed in the house of Kudarinsky about all the settlers and the “provided” including wives and children who are in the Kudarinsky custody, December, 31, 1813”. “The List” shows that in Kudara there lived 102 such people, in Dubinsky – 2, in Krasnoyarsk village – 1, in Zhilino – 2, in Fofonovo – 1. The word propitanny ("provided") meant a person who was placed for residence by the authorities on his own sustenance, and it was a pure Siberian word in its origin, as in European Russia it was not used. To be the propitanny meant to be left to mercy of fate, to get into a very hard situation, to have a miserable and powerless life.

The settlers and the propitanny got to Kudara in their old age, and as recorded by Kudarinsky foreman, were “obsessed with disease”, “limpimg”, “of old age”, “blind”, “all were beaten with whips”, and in the column “behavior” in almost all cases stood “good”, and in rare cases – “ill-natured”. Most of the martyrs had been in prison for a long time and had their penalty for “arson of house”, “for murder”, “for escaping from the service”, which can fairly be regarded as a protest against serfdom, against life soldiery. They came from the central provinces of Russia and had typical Russian last names: Saveliev, Pavlov, Gavrilov, Fomin, Alekseev, Demidov, Panteleev. After several years of residence in Kudara the propitanny were transferred to settlers, and some, with the permission of Verkhneudinsk Zemsky Court, – to peasants.

The life of settlers and exiles that always tried to flee and sought to return to their home lands, especially in the 19th century, was quite tragic. The authorities took punitive actions towards the tramps “fleeing from Sakhalin” and other places of penal servitude. The chase for them involved not only relevant agencies, but also the aboriginal population efforts. For example, any Buryat was allowed to catch exiles that had fled from state-owned factories of Transbaikalie. Even more, it was not forbidden to kill them. If a Buryat brought a runaway back to the factory, he was paid 10 bills (money of that time in Russia); if he killed a runaway and showed the place where the corpse was buried, the half of this amount was given to him. It goes without saying, this way of earning money was often employed by the natives who did not comprehend the social roots of exile practice and causes of the convicts to escape (see 36, pp. 360 – 361). We should also keep in mind that initially the Buryats were quite biased against the Russians. I.G. Gmelin in his description of the journey around Siberia in 1735 wrote that the Buryats called the Russians manguty; it could be translated like “the devil, which lives in the forest”. So it was no shame to do harm to the “devil” or even to kill him.

The "commonwealth" of exiles and convicts had a very negative attitude to such a practice, because they were disgusted by the cases of murder and betrayal of their comrades. Quite often the reaction of local Russian old-timers, especially of the settlers on such actions was negative too. The two well-known Russian songs about the Baikal show this pitiful, compassionate attitude toward runaways, because “in prison they suffered for the truth”. These are some lines from one of them:

"Near the city, I looked around vigilantly.

Country girls gave me bread,

Country guys provided me with tobacco”.

These lines help us understand the overall attitude to fugitives, which existed in the Russian countryside. That was the basis of such an attitude to the behavior of aborigines, even taking into consideration their "primeval" state. The Decembrist N. Basargin wrote the story "Maslennikov" that was about a prisoner who during his twelve years of penal servitude had run away from Petrovsky Factory in summer time for five times, and revenged the Buryat people killing some, injuring others. The courts, shackles, whip punishments could not stop him, and only the pious octogenarian, a Greek, with his exhortations and spiritual edification stopped Maslennikov from his merciless mission.

The Baikal and Trans-Baikal places of exile and imprisonment were closely connected with the name of Nerchinsk prison. It was not because the center of imprisonment was the well-known city of Nerchinsk situated on the Shilka River. In this city there was no large prison, only a small holding prison through which only few of the convicts passed, they did not stay there there for a long time. All convicts were sent to numerous prisons scattered around East Trans-Baikal, usually they were located near factories, mines, and all of them were known under the common name of Nerchinsk servitude. That is why in a song of a Baikal fugitive there are such lines: “Shilka and Nerchinsk are not frightful any more; I have not been caught by the mountain guards…” The mountain guards are the guards in mountain passes just to catch people who ran aways from prisons and other penal servitude places.

The way the prisoners and exiles existed in prisons of Nerchinsk and Akatuy is hard to describe. But let me present three quatrains of the song “Thoughts of a Fugitive on Baikal” Davydov, which were not included into the folk song.

“At the sea the runaway got a little scared;

The shore is wide, but there is no even a trough;

I went with hardships, and finally arrived

To a barrel full of clay.

Nothing to think of – the God sent me luck,

In this piece of vessel a bull will not drown;

And storm can get a coward even on a ship –

But will not harm a brave in a barrel.

It is tight for omul to live in it;

Fish, get comforted by my words:

If you were once in Akatuy –

You would jump into the barrel by yourselves”.

(Emphasis mine – A.K.).

The last stanza is very colorful and vividly describes those harrowing conditions that made prisoners ready to run away no matter how far.

The harshness and remoteness of the places where Russian Themis sent garbage, and often the best representatives of society, at the beginning of the 19th century drew the attention of the international community. The problem of isolating people, who violate laws and regulations of the society, always worried the rulers of the world. For European countries, primarily for England of the 17 – 18th centuries such an isolating place was America, where vessels constantly arrived full of all sorts of exiles, who were increasingly filling the New World. After the victory of North American colonies in the Revolutionary War, England lost the ability to send the exiles there, and their number was still increasing. The attempts to transport them to West Africa also failed. Then it was decided to set up an exile settlements (colonies) in Australia. These settlements were to be used as a base for whalers and to protect British interests in its trade with China and nearby countries. In the late 1780s the first ships with exiles arrived in Sydney, they founded various Australian settlements. But not all European countries could do this, and the search for places of settlement for a variety of law-breakers goes on, and often glances are directed to Russia. This led to the fact that at one point there were official attempts to make Siberia a place of exile for criminals from all European countries. This is evidenced by the document, recently discovered by B. Shostakovich in the Department of rare incunabula of one of the libraries of the Republic of Poland. It was the Decree of King of Prussia. This document (the original is retained in German) states:

“To protect in every possible way the property of the most devoted loyalists from audacious attacks of thieves, robbers, arsonists and alike who are guilty of serious crimes, His Royal Majesty, King of Prussia, our most gracious Sovereign, gave the order to seize and punish such tangible villains. But experience has shown that despite the taken measures, objectives were not fully achieved, and despite the greatest prudence, yet it could not prevent some of these criminals’ escaping from prisons and correctional prisons from time to time, which leads to horror of the well-intentioned citizens; and it is due to this hope to regain freedom, the condemnation to eternal imprisonment loses its deterrent effect in eyes of the villains.

For these reasons, the higher authorities decided to exile incorrigible thieves, robbers, arsonists and other similar criminals to remote parts of the world, and use them in hard works, without leaving the slightest hope for them to ever get freedom again. In accordance with this the Moscow Imperial court held an agreement that these villains will be exiled to remote areas of Siberia for mining operations thousands of miles away from the borders of His Majesty the King country.

And at once the worst 58 offenders were given to Russian commandant in Narva on the 17th of June that year to transport them to the mines located in the mountains in Siberia.

His Royal Majesty will protect the property rights of all inhabitants of the state against the encroachments of such villains [the same way] by sending these criminals in remote places, and orders to notify the public about it to calm his loyal citizens and to warn any offender.

Signed in Berlin on the 7th of July in 1802.

On His Majesty most gracious special order, Graffon der Schulenburg, von Goldbeck".

The paper cited above did not attract attention of specialists. And yet it raises a lot of research questions, as B.A. Shostakovich thinks. For example, what was the agreement with Moscow-Imperial Court like? What were the motives of the Russian government for signing it? An unprecedented fact is that dangerous criminals are exiled from their own country to a foreign one with the full consent and (presumably driven out of the context of the document) without any additional conditions on the part of the latter.

As it is known, for the Russian “outlaws”, there was another "promised land" except for Siberia, that is, the island of Sakhalin, and it was almost impossible to escape from it. But the remoteness of Sakhalin forced to seek a similar stand-alone “backup” in the harsh Siberian area. This circumstance was the reason why in the early 20th century Olkhon was to be a huge prison. The Governor-General of Eastern Siberia D. Selivanov reported to the Tsar Nicholas II: “A very good place for exiles could be two islands on Lake Baikal, namely: Olkhon for political criminals who are less important, and the Ushkany islands for the most important ones; it is necessary to build barracks for them there, make food warehouses, and organize guards ... Settling the criminal elements on the island would protect the indigenous population of Siberia from the harmful influence of the exiles, and their supervision would be much easier”. The resolution of the tsar was immediate: “Start the necessary arrangements on Olkhon at once, and make the remaining areas of Siberia free from settlements for criminal elements”. After Selivanov inspected the island, he included three places for construction of prisons into the project list: near the village Nur and Khada, on-site of the villages Khuzhir and Syrgyta; in the water gap of the rivers Kharansa, Kharalday and Nyurgun. The Olkhon penal servitude prison was planned by the organizers to consist of 40 villages with barracks, office buildings, and 16 prisons for 8 thousand people. The costs for the construction were assumed to be 10 million rubles, the regime of work was military, and Selivanov particularly noted: “The main rule is women are never to be sent to Olkhon and are not allowed here under any circumstances, for no reason”.

The significant costs (if average maintenance of one criminal in Russia at that time amounted to 176 rubles per year, then for Olkhon expenses increased up to 300 rubles), and possible negative political publicity did not allow to start building the ambitious prison (see 49, p. 96). Yet in the Soviet time there was a small camp for special settlers on Island Peschanny; the settlers were sent there for disorderly conduct and theft. Some of them lived and work freely.

Today it is hard to imagine how difficult it was to stay in Siberian prisons. The most common realities of a Siberian prison and hard labor are very colorfully and truthfully described by George Kennan, who was horrified by senseless brutality, incredible humiliation, all sorts of abuse, overpopulation (congestion) when instead of 500 there were 2 – 3 thousand people in a prison. Let me present some Kennan’s impressions about visiting one of the prisons to illustrate this. “We went upstairs; the steps were covered with a thick layer of mud and ice, and we entered through a heavy wooden door into a long, narrow, very dark corridor with uneven, wet and slippery floors. The air was warm but humid, it was filled with a pungent indescribable smell so characteristic of Siberian prisons ... We found ourselves in a chamber 24 feet long, 22 feet in wide and 8 feet high. It contained 29 prisoners. The air was even worse here than in the corridor, so that I felt sick ... There were no devices for ventilation. The wooden walls of the ward, once whitewashed, were now blackened and covered with mud, here and there there were stains of blood of squashed bugs. The wooden floor – though swept recently, – was covered with a thick crust of stamped mud. Along the three walls plank-beds were located, where due to overcrowdedness of the ward, the prisoners slept, huddled close to each other ... They had neither pillows nor blankets, and had to lie down for a night on bare bunks fully dressed, and covered themselves with their gray robes instead of blankets” (168). How hard such conditions are I learnt when I was under arrest during fulfilling my military service in the guardhouse of the Ulan-Ude garrison in 1969, and when I was the vice chairman of National Khural (the local parliament) of Buryatia while checking on the conditions of detention and remand in the Ulan-Ude special isolation ward (jail) in 1997.

But there were some quite positive moments in the history of the Pribaikal prisons. One of them is connected with the Alexandrovsky Central prison that is located 100 kilometers away from the lake. The Alexandrovsky Central prison in the late 19th century, when it was ruled by A. P. Sityagin and I. Lyatoskovich, was famous for a significant change in regime: petintsiarnaya system based mainly on punishing criminals was replaced by a correction strategy. Rods, shackles and even solitary confinement disappeared. They organized the work of prisoners so as to make them interested in it. A whole range of workshops arose, and the income from their work was spent to improve the conditions of prisoners, and one third part of the profit was saved by putting it on the account of the prisoner and was given to the prisoner when released.

In regard to sanitary and hygienic conditions the prison was highly satisfactory, the food and clothing of “cadets”, as Sityagin called his prisoners, were of such quality that even peasants envied them. There opened a school, the practice of interviews was introduced, a theater was organized, and the prisoners themselves performed there, an orchestra was organized, etc. The results of such treatment were not long to come: the percentage of rehabilitated significantly increased, runaways totally quitted, large groups of prisoners were sent to many outside works, including the construction of the Siberian railroad, without an escort, only with one or two guards. There were many talks about the order of things in the prison, even foreigners came to study it, and they (the foreigners) did not hide their surprise. J.J. Legras, the Professor of Dazhonsk University Paul Labe, the Englishman Jackson wrote full treatises about the Alexandrovsky prison.

But no matter how good the conditions of living in the Alexandrovsky Central prison were, it was not usual for such kind of institutions. The journalist and editor of some Irkutsk newspapers ay that time I.I. Popov, from whose the book I took the descriptions of the Alexandrovsky Central prison, wrote about his meetings with Frenchmen Chaphangeon and Matisse. “The French went to the Alexandrovsky Central prison and returned bewildered: “You are a state of contrasts and incredible opportunities. Such a prison, the prison with such orders, as in Alexandrovsky Village, can be found nowhere else in the world, – told me the dazed Chaphangeon. By the Alexandrovsky Central prison one can not judge about Russian prisons, I said. It is the only one in Russia and it only exists to show it to foreigners ...”.

One can not but recalls that in those times hundreds of thousands of foreign citizens were involved in Siberian prisons and exiles affairs. Just before the Revolution and Civil War in Russia, there were about half a million prisoners of war from Austria - German unit: Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Serbs and Romanians. Only in the camps of the Irkutsk Military District there were more than 140,000 prisoners of World War I. The revolutionary actions of 1917 gave them freedom. Under the influence and leadership of the Bolsheviks, they began to participate in political life, creating national committees and councils, and even the Red Guard units.

In April of 1917 in Irkutsk, the All-Siberian Congress of labour internationalists – former prisoners of war – took place. The Congress adopted a charter and program of the internationalist organization, elected its executive committee, and on the committee were the Hungarians Amber Frid, and Ungar, the Germans Kappemer, Pfister, Singer, and Shvabengauzen. There appeared a newspaper published in Hungarian and German in Irkutsk.

In the year of 1918 that was a hard year for the Bolsheviks in Siberia, hundreds and even thousands of internationalists went to different fronts with the Red Guards. The new authorities were actively supported by the Hungarians. They bravely fought under the command of S. Lazo against the Semenovtsi at the front of Transbaikalie in the spring of 1918.

In 1920 the famous Czech writer J. Hasek with his wife lived in Irkutsk being on board at the political department of the 5th Red Army. J. Hasek edited the newspaper “Rougham” in the Magyar language, “Storm” in German, “Voice of the Communists” in Polish, “The International” in the German and Magyar languages, and “Podarma Bulletin – 5”, “Red Shooter” in Russian. J. Hasek paid much attention to the so-called ethnic minorities of the region. By his initiative, the first newspaper in the Buryat language was launched; it was called “Ur” (“Dawn”), which he was very proud of, and he also edited a Russian - Buryat dictionary.

In the Soviet times Siberia traditionally remained a place of exile and hard labor, where along with criminals a lot of political opponents of the regime starting from the “kulaks” to simply different dissents were sent. Since the USSR was a polyethnic state, people of different nationalities were sent to the harsh lands to be “re-educated” by climate and labour. They worked at various great construction sites of the time, “bent their backs”, “injured their navels”, “tore sinews” at land works and tree felling, paving different routes through the taiga. The second third of the 20th century was associated with the design and first steps of the Baikal-Amur Mainline building. In its construction both the Russian citizens and prisoners of war, who had been sent to Siberia after the defeat of Nazi Germany and militarist Japan, were involved. The conditions the prisoners had to live under and mantulit (“work hard”) were described in the poems by V.N. Gomboeva “My Confession”:

I was at the famous BAM.

Oh God, what was happening there!

People staved,

And many went crazy.

Everyone worked forcing himself,

And thousands found their grave

In that strange and far away place,

Dreaming of their Motherland.

There is the Cemetery of Japanese prisoners,

Remains of them still incorrupt,

They can be safely dug out,

And one can call the Red Cross here.

Let all the people know,

What kind of death they found here:

They are lying in the forest range

With their heads, broken with a hammer,

“Do not bury the dead

Without broking his skull”,

This was the Stalin's law.

Now, it must have been canceled.

“Let anyone go in the best world

But with a broken head”,

Such kind of villainy, gentlemen,

Created “Our Stalin” sometimes!

And how many friends are here:

Lithuanians, Russians, Latvians,

Karelian-Finnish, Ukrainians,

Spaniards, Czechs, Italians,

Poles, Germans and Hungarians,

Estonians, Finns and Tatars.

Well, in short, the people of the whole world

Here found peace.

Not without reason folks tell us:

“Under each sleeper there lies a corpse”.

They were killed, gentlemen,

By swamps, mountains and forests,

Different diseases like scurvy,

But mostly by that “nightmare”:

“Great Stalinist law”.

Oh, God, the right, and the good!


All sorts of conflicts occurring in the 1920–30s and subsequent years in the country affected the residents of Pribaikal region as well. Thus, in 1922 in the areas of the Olzon-Baikal region a gang of Shaposhnikov acted, it included seventy-five members of different social background: former officers, dissatisfied with the new governmentamong them, even some local aborigines were like the Buryats, and Tungus were the members of it. And the members of this group enjoyed sympathy of some people from the villages situated near the Baikal, such as Small Goloutsnoe, Kosaya Steppe, etc. One of the most striking deeds of this gang was an attack on the logging “Big River” on the Angara River in June, when they looted the stockroom, brutally murdered the wife of the head of harvesting, and shelled the trains. In the Selenga district that at that time was a part of the Irkutsk province, there were some peasants’ riots in the Trinity and Ivolginsky counties. The participants often manifested latent hostility towards the Communists, and the desire to counteract them.

In the 30s the armed political thuggery on Lake Baikal was associated with the prisons located in Severobaikalsk region. In the camps there were a lot of “counterrevolutionary kulaks and podkulachniks”, exiles – the same “kulaks” and their family members. In the circles of the JSPD (Joint State Political Directorate) the events of 1930 that happened in the North-Baikal camp (prison) located in the area of Akukan and Bukacha were known very well. In November the prisoners of the Bukachan camp killed the chief of the camp, took in possession rifles and revolvers, amd left for the taiga. The detained bandits told the representatives of the JSPD, that the riot had been prepared since summer, and the plan of it also assumed a raid on the residence of the SPD (State Political Directorate) in the village of Guba, disarmament of peasants, execution of communists, Komsomol members, and non-communist agency heads, seizure of a ship or departure through the North-Baikal mountains to China. A part of the plan was put through, but the SPD declared military situation in the area, established headquarters to fight with the bandits, and isolated the exiles who supported the prisoners. An objective examination revealed a horrific treatment that ensued in the camps of the district. Here are some words from the stories: “For any minute fault or complain we were beaten to death, we were tied and thrown naked onto the ice in winter, and in summer thrown naked and tied at the mercy of mosquitoes and gnats. We are not given food for 30 – 48 hours, and when we enervate and can not work, the tortures begin again”.

The echo of the events listed above was heard in the north of Lake Baikal in recent years. E. Pavlyuchenkova recalls that during her trip to those places an old hunter told her and her companion about prisoners of the 30s who had killed the guard and fled in the taiga:

- Well, they had a severe life, lived, one might say, in burrows, here under the hill; you can go and see it. The conditions were highly severe and at some point evidently that was past endurance. And this happened, I guess, in autumn. They fled and disbanded that time, first lived on berries and mushrooms, and then when it got cold, started to visit hunting houses, where they took supplies and lived on that.

- Well, and a hunter comes to his wintering, but it is empty – no supplies, no tobacco, and he has to live on something, well, and one can say that the hunting season is lost; we have many peasants who live on hunting here.

Innokenty Petrovich took a cigarette from a mussy pack, lit it with a firebrand and continued:

- And the hunters started hunting not for animals, but for people, and seemingly not without the knowledge of the authorities.

- For people?!

- They were saboteurs, enemies of the people.

- And were they all killed?

- Some were shot, some died in the taiga”.

This emotionless attitude to the fate of people is due, of course, to the commonness of such circumstances in Siberia rich in prisons for centuries. And even nowadays staying in Siberia is associated not only with the delights of the taiga and spiritual nature, but also with the possibility of becoming a prisoner of its camps (prisons). The English writer A. Sillitow recalled that two American journalists flying with him on the plane and had a transfer to another jet in Irkutsk to fly to China, joked that the delay in Siberia could last for twenty-five years (the longest term that was given by the Soviet courts to prisoners).

Therefore, the “prison” essence of pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary Russia left its gloomy tracks on the shores of Lake Baikal. And, probably, it is worth to commemorate these facts somehow, as they are going to do on Sakhalin. The administration of Sakhalin intends to recreate the pre-revolutionary island ofprisons, which, according to the officials, will facilitate the flow of tourists to Sakhalin. The authors of the idea intend visitors to pay from $ 50 to $ 100 a visit.

The people on Sakhalin are sure that tourists are interested not only in beautiful nature, but also in historical landmarks. Therefore, a life-size jail, administrative buildings, a smithy, in which the shackles were forged, will be reconstructed. Tourists will be shown places where prisoners carted wheelbarrows, and where they were shot. It is assumed that the penal servitude prison will be recreated in Aleksandrovsk - Sakhalinsk or Korsakov district. Frankly speaking, such activities are important for the Baikal region as well. Even if it sounds blasphemous, it is important both for our memory and to attract tourists’ attention.

See also


  1. The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal/ A.D.Karnyshev-wThe 4 The Edition, updated/ (Монография) (2011г., Ulan-Ude:BSU Publishing House,2011.-586p.: with illustrations.)

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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